August 22, 2018
Senior Peer Mentor Training Camp ’18

On July 19th, The NAN Project kicked off its first Senior Peer Mentor Training Camp, a 6-week course for those who have already taken our initial Peer Mentor Training, and want to expand their skills to better help others. Over six classes, our team will learn new information about mental health, practice suicide prevention skills, pick up some art therapy techniques and get a peer mentor training refresher before heading back out to schools in the fall.

What does a life transition look like? Our class weighs in…

Each week begins with a morning lesson of Botvin LifeSkills, taught by Mike Hall and Maria Ruggiero. Unlike many of the health and life courses aimed at young adults, Botvin builds the fundamental skills needed to navigate that stormy time of transition into adulthood. The LifeSkills curriculum covers everything from effective communications, to decision making and personal finances. Many thanks to Mike and Maria for taking time from their busy schedules in the field of substance abuse prevention at the Lowell Health Department and the Tewksbury Police Department.

More LifeSkills – What is ‘typical’ adolescence?

We also participated in the half-day SafeTALK training, which is designed to bring intervention skills to those with no formal education in suicide prevention. Though our PMs have all been trained in QPR suicide prevention, SafeTalk allowed us to take a fresh perspective and brush up on our technique. With the guidance of our trainer, Tracy Jones from CrossPoint Clinical Services, our team gained useful skills that will strengthen our responses to those in crisis.

Taking notes on Mental Health First Aid Curriculum!

Next up, our team dove into Youth Mental Health First Aid training, a more detailed and in-depth explanation of how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Through 3 afternoons of lectures, group discussion, and role play exercises, our PMs learned a lot and gave context to their lived experience. This training was led by Eliot’s own Donna Kausek, the Eliot Mobile Crisis Intervention Program Director, Sarah Stewart, a Clinical Director at Rayne Academy JJ Division, and Cathy O’Leary, the Service Director at the DCF Division.

For the final two Thursday afternoons, Alex Norby, an Art Therapist at Raw Art Works in Lynn, led us in art therapy activities. After four weeks of intense, but valuable mental health and suicide prevention training, our team really appreciated the opportunity to check back in with ourselves, practice mindfulness exercises, and get expressive. Alex led us in meditation, creating self care boxes, and a collaborative art project. Even those of us who don’t usually use art as part of our self care learned a lot!

The NAN Project would like to give a big collective “Thank you!” to the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation for the grant that made all of this possible, to all of our trainers who were patient and informative, and to all of our amazing Peer Mentors for being so engaged and dedicated in their work. We look forward to seeing how these separate trainings will be adapted to better support students in the classrooms!


Survey Results are in!

As we sift through the data collected by our summer intern Maria Mongiardo, we want to take a moment to share the results.

The online survey created by our summer intern reached approximately eight hundred residents of Massachusetts and beyond was designed to capture participants’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to mental health. We hope to use the information below to tailor our efforts to the unique context of our communities, and assess the effectiveness of our programs.

The Takeaways

  1. Over half of the respondents to our survey reported having a mental health diagnosis. 97% of participants reported that someone in their life was affected by mental illness, and 80% reported a family history of mental illness.
  2. Fortunately, 87% of those with a mental health diagnosis reported accessing support for their concerns. However, accessing support is not so straightforward. A startling 76% of participants have experienced barriers to getting the help that they need, including the fear of shame or stigma, not being taken seriously, and trouble finding a professional. While we respect the resilience of those who get support despite the difficulty, it should not be so hard.
  3. Though respondents’ attitudes, beliefs, and demographic factors showed some variation, one question almost earned a unanimous positive response. 97% “wish there was more mental health awareness/services in [their] school or school district.”
  4. Luckily, a majority of the participants already knew some important truths about mental health. Over half of our sample agreed or strongly agreed that most mental illnesses are treatable, and 94% agreed or strongly agreed that people with mental health diagnoses can live productive lives. 98% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that it is important to learn about mental illness.
  5. One item of the survey asked, “If I had a mental illness, I would not tell any of my friends or family.” About 27% of our participants reported they were unsure if they would tell, but 19% agreed or strongly agreed that if they were diagnosed, they would not share that diagnosis with a single person in their life. Many of our peer mentors describe in their stories exactly how important it was for them to reach out and find someone in their lives who could talk about mental health. Whether it was a parent, a close friend, or a sibling, many of us can not imagine recovery without the support of a loved one.
    Why wouldn’t they reach out? We don’t know for certain, but it probably relates to the 30% of participants who agreed or strongly agreed that they would feel embarrassed or ashamed to tell someone that they had a mental health diagnosis.

We are already fighting to reduce this 19% on two fronts; by telling our own stories of connection and by educating others on how to be a support to those experiencing mental health challenges.

  1. Now compare our answers to a similar question, “If any friends or family of mine had a mental illness, I would tell them not to tell anyone.” How did our respondents predict they would support a friend who struggling? Less than 6% agreed or strongly agreed that they would advise their peers to stay silent, and 75% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this course of action.

Our participants were three times more likely not to tell anyone about their own mental health than they were to tell a friend or family member to do the same. The responses on how to handle one’s own mental health crisis were scattered, and no level of agreement reached a majority. However, when asked to think about a loved one in the same situation, three quarters of our participants knew they couldn’t ask their loved one to keep it hidden. Our participants wouldn’t shame their friends or family, but would feel shame if they themselves were in the same place. This is the power of stigma, of our tendency to see mental health challenges as personal weaknesses, especially in ourselves.

  1. Just over half of our sample agreed or strongly agreed that they would use mental health services if they were provided by their school or employer.

Attitudes, Beliefs and Age

Because our Peer-to-Peer model is based on shared experience/assumptions/culture of an age group – do different generations hold different beliefs about mental health? For the purposes of our analysis, we split the sample into two age groups; below 25 years of age, and above.

When asked to rate their current mental health, 80% of adults over 25 reported their mental health as “Good,” “Very Good,” or “Excellent.” In comparison, only 22% of the under 25 age group reported “Good,” “Very Good” or “Excellent.” The most common response, 41% of the under 25 age group reported having poor mental health.

When asked about their ability to access emotional support, both age groups felt confident that they knew someone who could help. An encouraging 90% of adults over 25 reported that they knew someone who could help them if they needed emotional support, but only 76% of the under 25% group.

A greater percentage of young adults reported having faced barriers accessing mental health services, compared to just half of the over 25 age group.

Younger than 25 age group more likely to be unsure if they agreed or disagreed with biological basis of mental illness, parents to blame. The younger age group answered that they were unsure if Masschusetts and Massachusetts public schools provided enough support to those with mental health challenges about twice as often as the older group reported being unsure.

This paints a picture of the young adults we surveyed – reporting poorer mental health, fewer supports, less sure about the truths which may destigmatize mental health, and facing more barriers to receiving the help they need.

Attitudes, Beliefs, and Diagnosis

Because over half of sample identified as having a mental health diagnosis, we have the opportunity to compare the attitudes towards mental health of those with and without a diagnosis.  Unfortunately, 76% of those with a mental health diagnosis reported facing barriers to receiving mental health services. Approximately 65% of those who reported a mental health diagnosis agreed or strongly agreed that they would use mental health services provided by their employer or school in times of mental health challenges.

We are so thankful to everyone who took the time to complete or promote the survey. We’ve only begun to understand all of the ways that this data can inform our work in suicide prevention and raising mental health awareness.

August 17, 2018
Iyanna “Ziona” Rivera – Peer Mentor Spotlight

For this edition of our Peer Mentor Spotlight, we sat down with Iyanna “Ziona” Rivera, or Z for short, to discuss some of the impressive things she has been up to. Z first came on board with The NAN Project during our training at STEPS in Arlington. Ziona has helped out during school presentations, been an active contributor at our Summer Senior Peer Mentor Training, and has taken a leading role in the newly formed Boston Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition, known more intimately as Boston Youth Together. We had the time to sit down with Ziona and ask her a few questions, and here’s what we got!

So, Z, briefly tell us a little bit about yourself!

Well, I’m Ziona Rivera. I’m first generation American. I’ve been actively in recovery and the peer mentor movement since about 2013 or 2014 when I took a peer specialist training with The Transformation Center. I also published three books – and work as Executive Administrative Manager at Amron International Organization, founded by my mom and geared toward faith based recovery coaching and networking. I now work for The Nan Project where I share my recovery/hope story and provide prevention resources to young people.

You have a lot on your plate!

Yeah, but I don’t just do this stuff for work, or career — but for my recovery. I feel like if I miss out on a group, or a training, or a meeting, I might be missing out on something that can make me a little better… more functional!

How does the peer mentor position at The Nan Project fit into your personal goals? How have you benefited from being a mentor?

I always had this dream of going back to school and rewriting my story. Retelling the true story, not what people thought of me. I now have a story of hope, strength, survival, and resilience. I have benefitted from being a mentor by gaining tools to help others. I learned better ways to communicate about suicide and prevention, I learned about resources available everywhere and I met some great peers. I love working with the Nan Project; it is honestly a dream to be able to do the work we do.

That’s awesome! Through all of this — have you had a mentor?


Z during Senior PM training

My mother is my life mentor. I have followed her all throughout my life to her administrative jobs, her college experiences — I almost grew up to do office work!  I learned everything I know from her, so now I am her apprentice and personal assistant. She is a reverend and holds an honorary Doctorate. She owns a recovery coaching business and she is also a Harvard graduate and alumni. I was introduced to the peer community and so I introduced my mom to the peer community, and we’ve been working alongside each other ever since!

What strategies do you use to deal with your own mental health?

I like to go to my therapist every week! Sometimes I miss an appointment, but I like to keep consistency in my life by taking my medication at night and going to therapy regularly.  I also practice sensory therapy where I use certain scents and fabrics to balance my energy. Staying involved, volunteering, whether it’s at the homeless shelter, the women’s shelter, or through the peer movement keeps me “up.”

What is an example of something you did to help a student or a friend?

I have many friends that I counsel and that counsel me too. I help them in areas like finding and applying for housing, advocating to their support systems, financial budgeting, goal setting, and emotional support. When I’m applying for an apartment, I’ll tell my friends, “Hey — there’s an apartment over here for rent!” They’ll do the same for me, and let me know where I can get clothes for cheap or do my laundry for free!

It sounds like that sense of community is really important to you.

Yes, it really is!

What has your overall experience been like as a peer mentor for the NAN Project (challenges, rewards, etc.)?

The challenge is me being…not mobile. Not having my own vehicle. I can’t really get to everything that I would want to be involved with. That’s the only challenge, but I’m not letting it keep me back!

I have still been gaining the reward of rewriting my story, and being active in my recovery. Telling my story, I heal from it. Every time I tell my story, I learn from it. Things I didn’t notice before, or things I was afraid to share, I can now share and I’m a little stronger. I have benefitted from the few extra trainings since I’ve started with The NAN Project and I feel like I’m changing my past and literally rewriting my story.

The peer relationships, just having peers that have been through stuff and are doing the same thing I’m doing – trying to recover – sharing their stories, providing resources, breaking the stigma. Having that team.- I love it!

What do you hope for your own future?

I hope I can fight stigma in a more hands-on way. I want to team up with my generation, and pick up where the elders in our peer recovery community have left off. I have a lot of dreams, but my biggest is to have my own program to benefit low-income persons with disabilities.

What commitments do you have for the year?

My major commitments for the year involve work with DMH, NAMI’s Greater Boston Community Advocacy Network (GBCAN), The NAN Project, and work with a suicide prevention task force called Boston Youth Together. For now it is a collaboration of the Greater Boston Regional Suicide Prevention Coalition, Samaritans, The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors, and some high school students coming together to do awareness projects. We’re trying to provide resources for mental health, break stigma, provide hope and resiliency directly to the young people of Boston.

That’s great! What are some hobbies you have? What do you like to do in your free time?

I like to write, listen to music. Sometimes I do a little bit of exercise! (laughs) I watch movies, make jewelry, practice tarot cards. A lot of reading. I get to go to different worlds by reading.

What advice do you have for future or soon to be peer mentors?

The advice I have for future mentors is to open their hearts, let their guard down, and share their experience. Be brave! Once you’re comfortable enough to share your story, you’ll learn how much it can help someone else come out of the dark.

Excellent advice. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Z. Keep up the good work and enjoy the rest of your busy summer!


July 3, 2018
Elli Peltola – Peer Mentor Spotlight
We want to acknowledge some amazing work that’s been done by one of our rising Peer Mentor stars! Elli Peltola is a dedicated, and enthusiastic young woman. She has been working with us for some time now, and tells a wonderful story of her battle with self-harm and how she learned to love herself. We had the time to ask Elli a few questions, and here’s what we got.

Elli, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I am 19 years old and was adopted from Belo Horizonte, Brazil into a great, loving family. Ever since I can remember, I have been blessed to be able to travel the world with my family, even living in Malaysia for a period of time. Traveling is my favorite thing to do, but I also like long drives with my friends, coloring in adult coloring books, and lots of sleep!

What are you up to these days, Elli?
Currently, I work as a gymnastics coach/parkour teacher (for the boys) to people of all different ages. I am taking a gap year from school, but will be starting community college in the fall to expand my career in mental health. Working for The NAN Project has been a significant experience over the last year that has helped shaped me into the person I now am.

Tell us a bit more about your experience with The NAN Project…
When I started, I wasn’t as confident with myself as I am now. I didn’t realize the impact my story could have on other people. Then one day, after presenting my Comeback Story, a girl approached me with tears in her eyes telling me how happy she was for me and how much my story spoke to her. It was a big eye opener because I never thought I could relate to someone so closely. I love working with the NAN project. It helps me emotionally and it’s helping increase my confidence, which is something I needed. I am so thankful to have found this job.

How did you get involved with The NAN Project?
I heard about The NAN Project through my DMH worker. We were looking for trainings I could do to better educate myself in the mental health field. When I was told that The NAN Project would help you craft your comeback story and share it with others to inspire hope, I thought it would be the perfect job for me.

Growing up I struggled to find hope in myself. I never thought I was important….until I started with The NAN Project. I had low self esteem and didn’t think my story could impact others but I was so wrong. I do have a purpose in this world and I am important. It’s hard to think you’re special when your world seems to be crashing down but there is ALWAYS someone out there who loves you and believes in you.

What do you use to cope with your own mental health challenges these days?The biggest resource I have found is just reaching out to others. Back when I was really struggling, this was something I’d NEVER do because I never wanted help. I didn’t want people to “help” me. It’s crazy how much a person can change over the years. A lot of my friends/loved ones/my providers know that when I’m upset, I think irrationally and react impulsively. I am very grateful  to have these supports who understand how I think and do their best to not have me react without thinking. One big thing that many of them do with me, is distract me from the negative situation and thoughts that are going through my head. For some reason, it tends to work most of the time. I’m also grateful I have people in my life who are willing to help and support me when I’m in need and they know how to react/respond when I need to reach out.

Can you suggest any other coping strategies for other PMs?
Self care was something I didn’t really know/want to do for myself while I was really struggling. Now, I realize that I am the only one who can take the best care of myself. For example, I actually love taking showers, keeping clean and moisturized because I feel the most beautiful that way. I love taking long showers, LOVE LOVE LOVE face masks, lighting candles in my room or even listening to soft music in the background.
A year ago I didn’t think I’d ever be able cope in the healthy ways I do today. But, with time, things did work out because I worked hard to live my life to the fullest and keep myself safe.

Thanks, Elli for taking the time to talk with us! 


May 31, 2018
Springtime School Review – 2018

As the school year comes to a close, busy season is upon us once again. Over the past few months, The NAN Project been working tirelessly with numerous schools as they try to equip their students with the tools they will need to maintain their Emotional Wellbeing before heading off into the Summer. Our standard presentation starts with an introduction to The NAN Project and a short video, followed by the core of our performance, our Peer Mentors sharing their Comeback Stories of resilience throughout their life’s struggles. We then engage students in a discussion about what various Mental Health Challenges look like, how to help a friend who may be struggling, and what supports are available in the Community.

We had the amazing opportunity to work with the Stoneham High School Peer Leadership Team by training them in suicide prevention in early March. 25 bright, enthusiastic students graduated the Q.P.R. (Question, Persuade, Refer) gatekeeper training, where they learned how to: 1) Ask someone if they are thinking about suicide (Question); 2) Help the person find hope and listen to what they are struggling with (Persuade), and, 3) Get them to the help that they need (Refer). (A small anecdote: when we met with the Peer Leaders about a month later, one of the students approached us and stated how fortunate he received the training when he did as a friend was struggling and he felt empowered to get his friend the help needed. This is what makes our work worthwhile!) We are excited to continue working with this community to keep the conversation around mental health going! We will also be back to present to 5 classes of Juniors and hopefully recruit more students for their Peer Leadership Team on June 5th.
On April 2 and 3, at Acton-Boxborough High School we introduced The NAN Project and had our Peer Mentors present to the junior Health Classes. It just so happened to coincide with the School carrying out the Signs of Suicide (SOS) screening, and showing the Friends For Life video,  which touches on how to respond to a peer in crisis (what timing!) We were able to supplement the wonderful Screening for Mental Health programs with our Peer Mentors opening up the discussion of their firsthand experience of Mental Health. The conversations were awesome and we hope to work with other schools that carry the SOS curriculum going forward.

The NAN Project is getting more active on the North-Shore with presentations at three schools across Salem, MA! On April 23, we opened the door by introducing The NAN Project to faculty across the school district. On May 15, we presented to Salem High School’s Therapeutic Program and their Hawthorne Program, which is for students who are returning to school after extended absences and lets them reintegrate on their own terms. And on May 23, we presented to New Liberty Innovation School, which is an alternative school within Salem Public Schools, that serves students that have previously struggled in school. Here we were given a tour of the school, introduced ourselves to the students, and had our Peer Mentors present their Comeback Stories. The discussions after revolved around how to tell someone you are struggling, who are the trusted adults you can turn to, and how to access supports if you or a friend is having a hard time.

In late April, The NAN Project finally got into Nan’s old high school, Hamilton-Wenham Regional. Due to a time restriction, we were asked to present to their entire Junior Class! We then divided all the students into 4 separate groups of 30 or so students to have a discussions about Mental Health, and what to do if someone you know is struggling. The NAN Project was then asked to come back on May 18 to present to 4 groups of Seniors (on their last day of school, nonetheless), as part of their yearly Senior Seminars. Our Peer Mentors leda discussions about the anxieties of graduating high school, and what supports the students can turn to as they transition to the next chapters in their lives.

The NAN Project was invited back to present to the second half of the junior class at CATS Academy in Braintree (we presented to the first half in February).  Here we introduced ourselves, aired our video, and had our Peer Mentors present their stories. Our Peer Mentors then engaged the students, who mostly come from overseas, in discussions about the anxieties of being far from home what supports they can turn to if they are struggling, for example, Dorm Parents, School Psychologist, and School Nurse.

We returned to Andover High School in mid-May to present to the junior health students. We love coming back here as this was one of the first schools we presented in. Over the past three years, we have presented to almost every junior at Andover High School, over 1,000 in total! We always have our standard introduction and our Peer Mentors share their Comeback Stories. One of our newest Peer Mentors, Elli, really resonated with a large number of the female students, though everyone did an amazing job. 

The Bromfield School in Harvard invited us to give a presentation to their entire 8th Grade Class on the 16th of May. This was our first time ever engaging a middle-schooler audience. We adapted the language we used for the younger students and discussed what mental health challenges look like for young people, especially for those transitioning into high school, which can be a very anxiety-provoking time in one’s life. Our message was very well-received, with one student even stating, “I think it went well.  We never pay attention as a group and I looked around and everyone was paying attention and taking it seriously.” We plan to be back at The Bromfield School next Fall!

Thank you to all of the dedicated School Staff that have worked tirelessly with us to make these presentations a possibility. It is your effort and belief in The NAN Project that makes what we do so impactful. Enjoy the Summer, we look forward to seeing everyone in the Fall!

We’re not just in schools…

Though schools are our focus, there is a lot more The NAN Project has been up to! As the warmer months approach, we find that the amount of Conferences we attend increases.  Between this yearly Conference Circuit and various trainings, we have kept ourselves very busy.

Back on March 16 (wow that seems like ages ago!), The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors hosted a workshop titled Developing the Conversation around Mental Health in the Classroom at the 3rd Annual SuccessFest. We were able to introduce The NAN Project and a handful of our Peer Mentors shared their stories of resiliency after struggles with Self-Harm, Depression, and Anxiety, and then answered questions while facilitating a panel discussion. We also discussed different strategies around how to open the doors to schools and get them talking about mental health and emotional wellbeing.

At the beginning of April, The NAN Project presented Jon Mattleman and his workshop, The Secret Lives of Teens, to a group of parents and educators at Westfield High School.  Here, Jon did an amazing job engaging the audience and providing some useful tips on what teenagers are really thinking, what they fear, and how adults can effectively support them. This workshop covered areas such as depression, suicide, substance abuse, and more. Our goal is to be back at Westfield High School next year to introduce our Peer Mentors to the student body, and keep this conversation going!

Over three intensive days in early April, The NAN Project held a New Peer Mentor Training at the YouForward drop-in center for youth up in Lawrence. This dedicated group of 10 young people were taught how to craft their past experiences into strength-based stories to help inspire hope in students. They also were certified in the nationally acclaimed suicide prevention program Q.P.R. (Question, Persuade, Refer), and were helped to develop more confidence in public speaking. We then held a Coaching day on April 20 to help these New Peer Mentors further develop their Comeback Stories, and to reinforce their communication skills. Thank you to all of our wonderful graduates, and congratulations on your new role as Peer Mentors for The NAN Project!

The NAN Project led a workshop at the annual Teen Mental Health Summit titled Developing A Conversation Around Mental Health in late April. Here, we showed our introductory video, had a few of our Peer Mentors share their stories, then led a discussion around what Mental Illness looks like in Young Adults. We had a great response by the 50 or so students and teachers in the crowd.

In early May, The NAN Project’s Cory, Mike, and Elli teamed up with Belle Cole at the DMH’s Provider Conference to lead a discussion about the video projects we have worked on together in response to a certain Netflix series – her project 13 Reasons to Fly and ours 13 Reasons Why We Need To Talk About Suicide. We then showed a few clips from each of our videos, and led a Q&A regarding the goals of these short films and how they can be utilized in a classroom setting. Later that same day, we premiered our full movie at a Mass Suicide Prevention Conference workshop with 120 or so attendees. To read more about that video, check out this other post HERE.

The NAN Project also tabled at the DMH Future Forum Resource Fair on May 4, at UMass Boston. Here, we did some networking and supported our colleagues in Gathering and Inspiring Future Talent (GIFT) with their presentation. We also were in Salem a week later tabling at the Salem High School Health Fair, using The NAN Project’s own Jeopardy board to draw in students and educate them on facts about mental health and coping skills.

On May 17, The Stoneham Substance Abuse Coalition invited us to speak at Let’s Talk About It, a community workshop headlined by Representative Michael Day from Stoneham. At the meeting, Ellen Dalton introduced The NAN Project, and had a few of our Peer Mentors present their Comeback Stories. After Q&A, we facilitated a discussion about what would be helpful to the students in the community in terms of support. This event was held in the wake of the tragic suicide of a young man earlier in 2018.

Thank you to all of our Supporters who made this past season so successful, the busier we are, the more people’s voices can be heard. We look forward to continue our quest to promote Suicide Awareness and Emotional Wellbeing!

Belle Cole – Peer Mentor Spotlight

We wanted to take the time to point out something that is pretty cool. The NAN Project’s own Peer Mentor, Isabelle Cole, has accomplished quite a feat. In the wake of confusion regarding The Netflix Thirteen Reasons Why series, Belle felt compelled to start an initiative on promoting positivity and life. Her project, 13 Reasons to Fly has now officially become a DMH promoted, non-profit organization. (Impressive right?)

I had the chance to talk with Belle and ask her a few questions

Why did you Join the NAN Project?
My friends over at DMH recommended that I speak with Kim Bisset, they said she’s really great at helping youth come up with their “comeback stories”. I reached out, and she mentioned The NAN Project’s peer mentoring program. I instantly wanted to be involved and a few weeks later, I attended their peer mentoring workshop. Their mission is so similar to my own.

Would you give us a little background on your non-profit, 13 Reasons to Fly?
I started 13 Reasons to Fly back in June in response to all the negativity surrounding the netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why. Originally, I just wanted to flip the script and create something positive. Instead of focusing on 13 Reasons to end your life, why not 13 Reasons to live, and hold onto hope? That’s where it all began, I was knee deep in my own recovery but was tired of hiding what I was going through. I was tired of the very thing I was in the hospital for being glorified and stigmatized.

What would you say is your main objective of 13 Reasons To Fly?
My overall goal is to stamp out the stigma that surrounds mental illness. We want to start the conversation and help remove the shame that comes with a diagnosis or treatment. We also hope to give people peer support so that they see they are never alone. I want people to feel like they are loved and believe they are enough.

Is there any other project that we should be looking out for?
My age makes it difficult, as I am still in school, but plan on doing the GIFT training over the summer. We are also working on a campaign within 13RTF called The Body Project which focuses on self esteem issues and emphasizes body positivity. Other than that, I am staying active with church, sports and a leadership/community service organization, Project 351.

What gives you hope?
The opportunity to help others. I live each day with the hope that I can make a difference. I want to use my lived experience to help other youth who are struggling with similar issues I did. I have met so many inspiring youth out there that love my message, want to stay connected, and even want to help, they give me help!

Ridha Abidshah – Peer Mentor Spotlight

Hello all, my name is Ridha Abidshah, and I am a 23 year old Peer Mentor for The NAN Project. Through the GIFT Training, (Gathering, Inspiring, Future, Talent) I first learned about The NAN Project.

To me The Nan Project is a place where I found hope and purpose. This is where I was told, “It’s ok not to be ok.” This was where I heard that we need to bring the discussion about mental health and suicide awareness above a whisper. This was where I was given a safe place; where I felt comfortable enough to talk about suicide. Being a part of The Nan Project has taught me to really see the need to break the stigma regarding mental illness in general, but more specifically the stigma towards suicide.

Having been someone who had suicidal thoughts and inclinations and having been someone who actually had a suicide attempt, The Nan Project has really meant a lot to me. It has taught me that I can make a difference and an impact on the lives of others. Just by sharing my story and experiences I can reach many or maybe just one individual on a personal level where they no longer feel the need or want to end their life. This is what truly gives me a hope and a purpose.

I have always known that I want to be an individual who wants to help others in any way that I could. The Nan Project has helped me find my true calling. It has shown me the way in which I can help individuals and impact their lives for the better. It has also made me feel as a part of a bigger impact of suicide prevention in order to help break down the stigma little by little.

May 29, 2018
Onix Jiminez – Peer Mentor Spotlight

We wanted to acknowledge some great work that’s been done by one of our rising Peer Mentor stars. Onix Jimenez is a bright young man, with loads of dedication. He has been with us for some time now, after originally taking our Peer Mentor training at YAVP last summer. But, life happens, and Onix took some time to work on some stuff, but now he is back and better than ever! Having first first his shared his story at SuccessFest in March, he is now a regular on Team Nanner regularly presenting at Schools and Conferences!

I took the time to ask him a few questions; here’s what I got….

Q:You put a lot of hard work into writing your Comeback Story, and it really shows. What were some helpful things for you to write it?

A: At first the idea of writing my story was a bit overwhelming, I’ve experienced a lot, and I’ve comeback from a lot, so it was really difficult, pinning down what aspects of my life I wanted my story to be on. It took a while but I managed to look at the things that I’ve struggled with, and the events I’ve had the most growth from, and I used those to hopefully tell a story that shows strength.

Q:You recently had your first presentation at SuccessFest. How do you think it went?

A: I was nervous. I’ll admit I was a bit shaky at first. However, for being one of the few times I’ve publicly spoken, with an entire audience’s attention, I was pretty proud of myself for being able to do it.

Q: What would be a piece of advice you would give new Peer Mentors sharing their Comeback Story for the first time?

A: The bit of advice I would give is to know your story and own your story. When I first told my story I was nervous, regardless of what stage you are in, a comeback story is about personal struggle and about being able to turn it around. It was hard not to think, “Well, what if my story isn’t worthwhile”. However part of what helped was reminding myself, that I know this story, it’s mine and it’s worthwhile to know that I came back from this struggle, even if just for myself. And maybe, hopefully someone else will see what the benefits are of owning their story…because it’s theirs, it’s mine, and it’s ours. We all want to succeed.

Q:How did you hear about the NAN Project?

A: I was involved in the Youth Advisory Group and the Tempo young adult resource center through Wayside in Framingham when the training was recommended to me. I had wanted to be able to take steps towards becoming a peer mentor for a long time, and I wasn’t sure how, so this was my first real step.

Q: You work an awful lot…. What are some things you do for self-care?

A: Between my other job and NAN, I had a lot going on, and at times it was stressful. I would spend some time with my friends and spend some time alone. However, I ultimately had to make the decision to leave (old job), as I had to acknowledge I had my limits. A huge part of self-care, is knowing those limits, and being able to push yourself to de better but also knowing when it’s time to recognize I’m stressing those limits too far

Q:If you had to use one word to describe your feelings towards the NAN Project, what would it be and why?

A: Exciting

Thank you Onix for sharing with us and all your amazing work with The NAN Project!

May 22, 2018
Watch 13 Reasons Why We Need to Talk about Suicide

13 Reasons Why We Need to Talk about Suicide is a movie project that came about in response to the Netflix series. In mid-2017, teachers in many of the schools we work in started asking us how to address this series, which many of their students were talking about. It was a double edged sword. On the one hand, it opened up the topic of suicide to a huge segment of the population where previously it had been such a taboo subject. However, after watching the series, we had a couple major issues, which I’m sure many of you had as well.

First, we felt they sensationalized and almost glorified Hannah’s suicide by giving her a voice after her death. This is an extremely unsafe portrayal which could lead a young person who may be struggling with any number of risk factors –bullying, depression, sexual assault – to think that suicide could be a viable solution to their problems, or worse, a way to be remembered or means of “getting back” at their classmates. For a kid in or near crisis, this show could be both upsetting and dangerous.

Second, the series barely touches on the mental health issues that around 90% of people who die by suicide are struggling with. The show implied that those around her were guilty of her suicide, when we know that it is the individual themselves that makes the decision to end their life. The fact that Hannah’s mental health was barely mentioned reinforced the feeling that there is little hope for a young person who may struggling with a mental health concern in conjunction with the other traumas she endured. Yet we know, mental health is treatable, and suicide is preventable. This series did not impart this message to us and we wanted to change that.

Finally, the series painted an incredibly bleak picture of the supports a young person can turn to in times of need. Guidance counselors were unhelpful, at best. Parents didn’t understand and were reluctant to broach some difficult topics. Friends were flaky and offered bad advice. We want to show that in reality, there are many supports you can turn to if you are concerned for yourself or a peer. You’ll notice that within, or at the end of each of the 13 vignettes, there is a support listed (hotlines, coping skills, individuals), and we hope that young people will gain an understanding of the vast array of resources you can reach out to within your school or community.

More importantly, the final vignette outlines in 3 clear steps, on how to respond to a peer in crisis. If students, young people or anyone who views this takes just one thing away from this film, we hope it’s the empowerment to reach out to a friend in crisis and 1) Ask them directly, “are you ok” “are you thinking about suicide?” 2) Step back and listen and validate what they are going through, and 3) Get that person to a trusted adult or support.

So about the process of making a movie.

The vignettes were designed over the last 9 or so months with input and feedback from our amazing Peer Mentors, as well as the peer leadership teams we work with at Stoneham and Andover High Schools. A variety of different formats were used in an attempt to reflect the different ideas our peer mentors had. Some, such as one where a young man comes out as gay to his family used actors; some were silent and focused on stats; others were based on the Peer Mentors’ own lived experience. We hope the variety adds to the experience.

Finally, I’d like to thank the organizations that provide the support that allowed us to create this project, including DPH, DMH, Cummings Foundation and Eliot Community Human Services. I’d also like to thank Dan Perez for his amazing work directing, scripting and a million other things he did to prepare this work that you are about to see. There is no way we could have done this without him. Most importantly, I’d like to thank all of our Peer Mentors and Peer Leaders who acted in and helped direct, edit and pull together this movie. They are the core of The NAN Project and we wouldn’t be here without them.

We hope you find this film educational and more importantly, useful, in your work with young people. We’d love to hear your feedback and how you’d use this tool effectively when working with students.  Enjoy!


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